After the 2-0 defeat to Switzerland in Geneva on Tuesday, Mick McCarthy has no hesitation in saying that Ireland were beaten by “the best team in the group”.
It follows then that Ireland’s next and last opponents in Group D must be the second-best, not that the manager thinks it will be a whole lot easier for the home side when the Danes — who, of course, got the better of the Swiss in Copenhagen last Saturday — come to the Aviva next month.
Asked if nothing less than the best performance of the campaign will be required of his side if they are to prevail against Denmark, McCarthy said: “I would think so. We’ll need to be at our best.”
Playing well individually and collectively, being good with and without the ball: these, according to McCarthy, “are the elements of a good performance”.
And, after a pretty dire first-half from his team on Tuesday night, especially in terms of ball-retention, he thought he saw more encouraging signs of what will be required next month in an improved second-half performance.
“We didn’t struggle in the second half, we proved that we could pass it in the second half, and it’s that performance that we need to remember, not the first half,” he said.
He also reckons that what he terms the “cup final” nature of the game against Denmark — even if, whisper it, it’s a cup final with a play-off back-door attached — can have an inspirational effect, a sense of occasion his players can feed off.
“I would hope there will be a full house and a partisan crowd. And it is, it’s our cup final now. It’s a great opportunity for us at home, a real good opportunity to qualify.”
But a home side who will still go into the game as underdogs?
“We’ve been underdogs from the start. We were third seeds behind those two teams and that’s still the pecking order. And if we beat Denmark and qualify we will have overachieved.
“I said at the very start, with us being third seeds, I’d have taken this, everyone would have taken it.
"If we could have just got shut of all the other games and said we’ll have a one-off game with Denmark at home on November 18, it’d have been, ‘yeah, brilliant’.
"So whatever we have done and if we have lost a bit of momentum and not been playing well, this is just a different game completely and we’ve all got to be up for it. And that’s what I’ve said to the players.”
Could the painful memory of what happened the last time the Danes came to town for a decisive game be a source of motivation for the players?
“I don’t know whether they are looking for revenge. We’ve just got to have a really good performance, a solid performance.
"Like I said to you, with the ball, without the ball. If it’s about somebody gaining revenge on that opposition, then if we do it, it will be brilliant.”
McCarthy will be closely monitoring his players between now and then, keeping his fingers crossed that he doesn’t lose anyone else to injury after Seamus Coleman — who, it must be said was well below-par in Switzerland — was ruled out by his red card.
“He was just sat feeling very down after the game,” the manager reported.
“He knows he can’t play in what’s one of the biggest games that’s been around for a while. So, very disappointed, yeah.”
While the likes of Shane Duffy or Glenn Whelan would be able replacements as skipper, Wolves’ Matt Doherty appears to be nailed on for Coleman’s right-back slot, something McCarthy as much as confirmed.
“I’m asked on many occasions why Matt Doherty is not playing, well now he has an opportunity,” he remarked.
Up front, meanwhile, a fit David McGoldrick would be warmly welcomed back by his manager.
“You’ve all seen how well he’s played when he has played, he’s been one of our best players,” said McCarthy. “So to have him back would be a real bonus.”
And not to be forgotten is Shane Long.
“Of course, absolutely,” said McCarthy. “But he’s got to be playing. He had 70 minutes in the game before we got together and if he continues playing then, of course, I’ll consider him.”
Aaron Connolly is sure to remain in the frame even if his first competitive start for his country was a radically different experience from his first Premier League start for his club. At 19, he is one for the present but also for the future.
Or, as McCarthy put it: “he has nothing to worry about, he has plenty more caps to come, Aaron.”
Lest we forget, Denmark is not Ireland’s next home game.
Four days before the November 18 D-Day, Mick McCarthy will field a side against New Zealand at the Aviva, but “in terms of importance or stature”, he observed, it’s a friendly that will have “no bearing” on the big game to come.
Still, with very little for Irish football supporters to cheer about since the weekend, it’s probably as well for McCarthy and his players that it’s an Ireland-New Zealand encounter of a very different kind which will deflect attention elsewhere, at least for now.